The Big O: Tasmania’s Overland Track
Plane landings begin to seem the same after awhile; green and brown patches of earth, maybe some ocean; tiny crisscrossings of roads; residential grids; factories and buses; then the sudden straight and narrow strip of serious gray which you always hold your breath on until the wheels hit. Perhaps you have never been here; but it looks strangely familiar everywhere else. You learn not to expect too much until you’re on the ground; not to make too many judgements until safely distanced from the airport.
As my small plane descended through the clouds upon Launceston, Tasmania, it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I swear I thought a dinosaur might appear. Black-green hills clashed against shadowy mountains hung with low-lying clouds. As the plane lowered I was able to pick out more details; rushing rivers and solid forest. Spits of rain hit my window. This land was wild, unrestrained; far from the safe, sterile, straight and narrow. Now was a good time to start seriously pondering what the hell I was getting myself into.
I don’t remember quite how I found out about the Overland Track, but once I did, there was no turning back. It was boasted as Australia’s most famous multi-day bushwalk, and I am always a sucker for anything described as the best, biggest, deepest, highest, etc. The Overland Track is also classified as a World Heritage Area and is one of the last few remaining temperate wilderness areas. First, I read every scrap of information I could on it, and decided how many days I would take to cover the 80km. Then I went out and bought the cheapest equipment I could find, brought it home, then brought it back and exchanged for the more expensive things that would, in the long run, make me a much happier camper. This change of heart was brought upon by all of these things I kept reading about getting wet; things about getting very wet and staying wet. Somehow I just didn’t quite want to believe that the area I was going to only got thirty days of sun a year. I was sure they just underestimated to keep the hoards away and to have those who do make the effort overjoyed to find themselves in sunshine.
Okay, the truth of the matter is that you might as well waterproof your life before you go, because weather on the track is wild and unpredictable, and you will, yes, even you, will get wet. No, not just wet, soaked, drenched, and flooded. On the upside, you’ll emerge from the trail feeling slightly invincible against Mother Nature (or you’ll swear never again to leave the house when it is raining).
The Overland is a great track, whether you are someone who has never attempted a multi-day, overnight walk or someone who has just completed the Appalachian Trail for the second time. The Overland is easy enough for the average hiker, but has enough challenge, adventure and excitement to keep the experts happy as well. The track is well marked and maintained, with boardwalks over the more muddy parts, and plenty of clean huts and camping areas with composting toilets and water.
I took five days to do the hike, and it could even be hurried over in four, but I would recommend taking up to a week or more to get the best out of the trail, exploring the side trails and mountain peaks. The track can be hiked north to south or vice versa. The most popular route is from Cradle Mountain in the north to Lake St. Claire in the south.
The track is the most crowded from January to March, and the huts are on a first come first serve basis, so if you decide to going during these peak times, expect to be camping with crowds. In January as many as forty walkers set out on the track each day. The months of December to April have long daylight hours and warmer average temperatures and are therefore recommended to those inexperienced with Tasmanian conditions. My hike took place over the Easter holidays in April, so there were a fair number of walkers, but I didn’t feel crowded.
The track is open year round, but sometimes segments are closed due to flooding and other extreme weather. Those more hardy souls can hike it in the winter (June-August), but April’s cool mornings and nights were enough for me. Fall (Mar-May) is a good season to see the changing colors of the deciduous beech; summer (Dec-Feb) and spring (Sep-Nov) find more wildflowers on the track, and winter, snow, although it is not entirely uncommon to have sudden snowstorms in the summer months as well. Rapidly changing weather conditions can occur at any time of the year. These can include howling winds, sleet, snow, relentless rain and blazing sun. All of these varied conditions can be experienced within a single day. No matter what season you choose to go, it is always better to be overprepared than underprepared.